We are just back from a “Lessons from Little Bighorn” workshop in Montana, and it was a real treat to visit that beautiful battlefield, which looks today much as it did in 1876.
Our Cheyenne guide gave a passionate and moving tour of the large battlefield, highlighting the heroic deeds of Crazy Horse, Gall, and Two Moons. The next day in class we heard the inevitable question, “Why do you focus on Sitting Bull in this class when he did not even fight in the Battle of Little Bighorn?”
Let me answer the skeptics with more questions: Why did Lincoln not fight in the Battle of Gettysburg? Why did Eisenhower not cross the English Channel with the first wave of troops on D-Day? Why does a coach not go on to the field, pick up the ball, and run for a touchdown?
Someone has to be the strategic thinker and organizer, the one who keeps the entire “field” in his planning. His/her job is to inspire the fighters to want to stay together and work together toward a common goal.
Sitting Bull had brought together a summer encampment of 7 Dakota tribes, 2 Nakota tribes, along with Cheyenne and Gros Ventre tribes. Hundreds of teepees were pitched in circles by tribe, each with independent leadership and accustomed to moving on their own. Sitting Bull, who anticipated a fight with the advancing U.S. Army, worked to build an allied fighting force, but one that allowed tribes to fight as separate units.
He appealed to the young warriors, praising their courage, while holding their high energy in check, so they would be ready for the large fight to come. He met with the tribal leaders repeatedly, emphasizing their similarities and their shared need to protect their lands and people from the whites. And he publicly performed a ritual Sun Dance, sharing his vision of “soldiers falling into camp.” That vision was interpreted as a major victory over the soldiers, and the message spread throughout the combined campsites.
So my answer, after you learn of the battlefield heroics of the colorful Crazy Horse and stalwart Gall, is that Sitting Bull was absolutely essential to the winning of the Battle of Little Bighorn. It was he who called for the tribal gatherings, who kept the tribes focused on staying together for a big victory, who unified the young warriors, and who did not tamper with the strength of the individual fighting skills of the warrior leaders.
What if the battle had not been won by the tribes on June 25 and 26, 1876? Who would have pulled together a retreat, or re-organized into different defensive units? Who would have taken the blame for the loss? This victory needed a strategic thinker and inspirer, and they had that in the noble Sitting Bull.
Who, in your office, is the strategic thinker, the big-picture advocate? In many organizations today, people are spread out on different floors, in buildings across the street, in regional offices around the state or country. Who helps keep these warriors focused on the big picture? Maybe you are the one to step up to that role. Become their inspirer.